WARSAW, 29 September 2011 - The Director of the OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR), Ambassador Janez Lenarčič, expressed concern about the passage of restrictive religion legislation by Kazakhstan’s senate earlier today and called for a review of the law before it is signed into force.
“The new law appears to unnecessarily restrict the freedom of religion or belief and is poised to limit the exercise of this freedom in Kazakhstan,” Lenarčič said.
The law, which still needs to be signed by the President to enter into force, requires re-registration of all religious communities, bans unregistered religious activities and introduces high penalties for violations of the ban.
Other concerns include the requirement for religious organizations to submit to a “religious study examination” by a government body; restrictions on the distribution of religious literature outside of religious buildings, religious educational institutions and other facilities identified by local executive bodies; and the requirement for anyone engaged in “missionary activity” to re-register.
ODIHR, in 2009, provided a legal opinion on an earlier version of the law that included similar provisions, concluding that the rights of religious groups would be negatively affected. The draft was subsequently rejected by Kazakhstan’s Constitutional Council.
“It is disappointing to see that the law does not take into account the earlier comments by ODIHR and that it was passed without significant public consultation,” Lenarčič said.
He noted that in its current form the new legislation would constitute a step back in Kazakhstan’s compliance with OSCE commitments.
Lenarčič expressed the hope that the law would be thoroughly reviewed in light of the country’s international obligations before it is signed into force, and said ODIHR’s Advisory Panel on Freedom of Religion or Belief stands ready to provide comments if requested.